While cynics might be inclined to find pianist Jim Clayton’s new album, Songs My Daughter Knows, merely an obvious attempt to exploit the appeal of little cutie Eileen Agnes “Lenny” Clayton, the daughter of the title, the more generous, less skeptical among us will be quite happy to buy into his proud papa syndrome. More importantly the music on the album is nothing short of a delight, and the photos of “Lenny,” three years old at the time of the recording, filling the liner notes are a family-friendly alternative to some super model in a bikini.
Clayton’s idea as he explains it in the notes was to put together a set of songs that had attracted “Lenny’s” attention over time, music that seemed to have made an impression on her. What he came up with, turns out to be a mixed bag. “Lenny,” it seems, has a very eclectic palate. “The music ranged from favorite Sesame Street classics to brass band tracks, from the CD’s in our car to the theme from a TV show she heard repeatedly (like, a lot) in utero.”
At first glance some of the tunes—“Grouch Anthem” and “I Have a Little Plant,” for example—might seem unlikely candidates for a jazz album; others like the Adderley brothers’ “Inside Straight” or the American Songbook refugee, “Autumn Leaves” would seem to be no-brainers. Likely or unlikely, if what you are looking for is straight-ahead jazz played with joyful intelligence, Songs My Daughter Knows is an album you want to hear.
The Sesame Street selections just go to show that there isn’t really any music impervious to engaging improvisation in the hands of a fine artist, and Clayton has gone to New Orleans to put together an ensemble that makes the most of the material. Peter Harris plays acoustic bass. Jason Marsalis is on drums, and percussion is in the hands of Bill Summers. Trumpeter Marlon Jordan guests on “Inside Straight” and “Autumn Leaves.”
So whether they are giving “Autumn Leaves” a kind of “cakewalk groove” or setting the “Grouch Anthem” to the “groove of ‘Iko Iko,” there is an energetic freshness to their approach. A hoary antique like “Tea for Two” begins as a jazz waltz and ends a swinger. There are delightful performances of “Sing” and “The Rainbow Connection” as well as an interesting take on the theme from The West Wing. The lone Clayton original composition is called “Little Leo.”
All in all, not only is Eileen Agnes “Lenny” Clayton cuter than the proverbial button, she has great taste in music.